In the scheme of syllogism, the bogeyman of critical race theory has become the latest moral panic for which something must be done. Florida did something. They passed a law
Florida’s amendment takes an existing rule saying instruction “may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holcaust” [sic] and adds “slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people to our country.” The new language continues:
Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project[.]
There is a weird line between what is historical fact and what is not. We can’t “fit” in all of American, no less world, history into the time frame available in public schools. Much of it is sanitized, whitewashed if you will, to make the nation and its birth more virtuous than it was. To accomplish this, myths were taught and warts were removed. And motives, both good and bad, were ascribed to our purposes that filled out hearts with pride at our goodness and alleviated our shame at our badness.
It’s understandable that history was taught this way. How do we keep our Republic if children are taught to loathe it? And to be fair, American democracy has served well and accomplished many great things. Bear in mind, this is history taught to young, impressionable minds, and if taught in a way that makes a nation terrible, unfair and hateful, how would they grow up to support it, to believe in it, to want to keep it?
On the other hand, it is at best an effort to form a “more perfect” union, and we’ve done many things that are terrible, unfair and hateful, from which we can learn to do better. If that’s not taught as well, we fail to learn from our past mistakes and may repeat them. But where is the line between teaching what we did right and what we did wrong? What is the right tipping point to appreciate the greatness of American democracy and the horrible treatment of blacks, native Americans, gays, unorthodox thinkers, immigrants and others who didn’t get a ticket on the Mayflower?
Supporters of the concept say it’s more about teaching through a lens of systemic racism and equity.
His push mirrors other conservative leaders across the country. About a dozen states — including Louisiana, Iowa, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Oklahoma — have introduced bills that would prevent teachers from teaching “divisive,” “racist,” or “sexist” concepts.
The fear underlying these initiatives is that teachers aren’t so much teaching about critical race theory, but indoctrinating young minds into the ideology behind it, that everything must be viewed through the lens of race and that systemic racism permeates every aspect of our society. Distinguishing between teaching a theoretical approach and indoctrinating students into believing that it is the only true view of history rather than one of many ways to appreciate historical fact is what’s really at issue.
Some teachers challenge the underlying notion that this is a problem at all.
“My question would be, why is he making such a stand to ban something, claiming that teachers are indoctrinating students, when this isn’t even in the schools?” she said. “He’s creating an issue where an issue doesn’t exist.”
Others argue that it’s impossible to teach history without it anymore.
The new restrictions come on the heels of heightened racial tensions following the killing of George Floyd. David Hoppey, the director of the University of North Florida’s education program, said it would be nearly impossible for teachers to ignore what’s going on in society with their students.
“You cannot have civics without critical analysis and discussion about historical and current events,” he said, adding that critical race theory can be used to help a class better understand topics like dress code enforcement, voter suppression and more.
Still others argue that, perhaps unwittingly, that prohibiting CRT means students can’t be taught the “truth” because it is the truth.
The Anti-Defamation League has also voiced concerns with the new teaching standards.
“The rule requires that public schools provide factual and objective instruction on state-mandated subjects including, African American history, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Holocaust, and the civil rights movement. Yet, it broadly prohibits any instruction about racism being ‘embedded in American society and its legal systems,” said Yael Hershfield, the Florida interim regional director.
Is racism “embedded in American society and its legal systems”? That’s the crux of the issue, and the Florida ADL’s Hershfield begs the question, which a great many proponents of progressive history tend to do.
But is Florida’s new law the solution? What does it prohibit? What does it allow? And can the state enact a law prohibiting the teaching of ideas because they do not adhere to the government’s orthodoxy?
DeSantis has notably called critical race theory the practice of “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.”
There are few parents who would want their young children to come home from school believing that they are oppressors because of their skin color, or they are personally responsible for the evils perpetrated generations before they existed or arrived here, and have a personal duty to sacrifice in compensation for the way in which others were treated in this great nation. But then, slavery happened. The Tulsa Massacre happened. Neither ignoring nor denying them would be historically accurate or pedagogically sound.
Concerns about indoctrination aren’t false or wrong, and pretending that teaching young children to believe that America is the land of privilege and oppression won’t have a significant impact on how they view themselves and their country is foolish. But laws dictating what can be taught which put at risk historical fact that’s as much as part of our history as the glorification of national pride are compelled government orthodoxy, a greater evil than pedagogical orthodoxy.
There are two sides, one of which wants to sanitize our sin of racism and the other which wants to make it the primary focus of history, where everything is filtered through an anti-racist ideology. Neither is a sustainable vision of America, but laws like Florida’s which attempt to micromanage education are just as unsound as dictating a curriculum based on the false history of the 1619 Project. How to teach children both the good and bad of our history is a very hard question. How to produce children who aren’t filled with self-loathing as a result is hard as well. But passing laws prohibiting, or requiring, the teaching of unpleasant historical fact or trendy historical fiction isn’t the solution.